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Hollywood action against workplace sexual harassment is doing better than just pins. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund has provided funds to a lawsuit filed last month against Walmart, the largest private employer in the US.
Filed by 56-year-old Gina Pitre, who had earned $11.50 per hour in a Mississippi Walmart fulfillment center, the lawsuit includes complaints against a manager who had touched her inappropriately and made suggestive comments, according to the New York Times. Pitre is among the first to make use of the fund, which provides grants to women in low-wage jobs who otherwise would have little legal recourse to protect themselves against large corporations.
So far the defense fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, has received about $22 million in donations. Along with providing financial support for legal fees, the money goes to connecting workers with lawyers as well as public relations specialists who can help amplify their cases in the media.
It’s also among the first major initiatives that prove the commitment of Time’s Up to providing financial support to women far outside the glamour of Hollywood. Since its launch in January, the organization has received criticism for keeping the focus on film and television, industries that already receive an outsize percentage of public attention. It’s been deemed too exclusive (Reese Witherspoon and Oprah are among the most prominent faces of the initiative), while Rose McGowan called the black dress protest at the Golden Globes an example of “Hollywood fakery.”
Yet its organizers have long insisted that Time’s Up was intended to stop sexual harassment and assault “from the factory floor to floor of the Stock Exchange,” and in recent months it has written letters of support for women working in industries like agriculture and restaurants, as well as janitors, housekeepers, and undocumented immigrants. On Tuesday, the defense fund also announced that it would provide legal funds to McDonald’s employees who have filed 10 sexual harassment charges against the restaurant chain in nine cities.
According to the Times, about 2,700 people have contacted the fund with complaints about sexual harassment, and about 5 percent of those work in retail. Retail employees are particularly vulnerable because of their relatively low status within their companies, murky systems for reporting incidents, and the fact that economic insecurity may prevent these workers from taking action that might result in losing or leaving their jobs. So it’s likely not the last time we’ll see involvement from Time’s Up in lawsuits against huge and powerful retailers.